Lowell Week in Review: December 22, 2013
Here’s a review of Lowell politics for the week past:
Outbreak of Violence
This week’s outbreak of violence has to be the big story of the week. Wednesday night a man was murdered in an apartment on Second Street in Centralville and Thursday afternoon three men were shot in their car at a gas station at Chelmsford and Lincoln Streets in the Highlands. The Thursday shooting caused the Lincoln Elementary School, which is right across the street, to go into lock down.
While no one has been arrested for either crime, on Friday the Lowell Police issued a statement identifying 21 year old Leroy Mey as a suspect in the Thursday shooting which the police termed “a drug deal gone awry.” The police also said that the two shootings were unrelated and that the Centralville murder was “not a random act of violence.”
It’s good to know that innocent people are not being intentionally gunned down in the streets, but the fact that bullets are flying in densely packed neighborhoods at 8 in the evening and at 3 in the afternoon is certainly cause for concern.
With the holidays during the next two weeks, the next city council meeting will be January 7, 2014 which will be the first meeting of the new council term. Since several of those who were successful in the last election made public safety a major part of their campaigns, that topic will almost certainly come up for discussion at that meeting.
Final Council Meeting Snowed Out
This past Tuesday’s city council meeting was cancelled due to that day’s snowstorm. This deprived outgoing councilors Marty Lorrey, Vesna Nuon, Joe Mendonca and Mayor Patrick Murphy of the opportunity to make their final remarks on the floor of the council. Hopefully the new council will afford them the opportunity to do that at a council meeting in January even though the four will all be private citizens by then.
As for the mechanics of cancelling the meeting, it’s my understanding that the Mayor is the one who routinely makes that call in the time of inclement weather or public emergency. With the the city having imposed a parking ban earlier that day and acting Governor Galvin (Governor Patrick was out of state) urging all residents to stay off the roads plus the difficulty so many people had getting home from work that afternoon and evening, it seems like cancelling the meeting was the right call. As for the December 24 and December 31 meetings. presumably the council would have formally voted to postpone them last Tuesday had the meeting been held. While there may not have been an official vote to do so, anyone questioning whether the council should be meeting on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve is only looking to stir up trouble. An emergency meeting of the council could be called at anytime should a legitimate need arise.
First Council Meeting of the New Term
As mentioned above, public safety should be a topic of discussion at the January 7, 2014 council meeting. A couple of items that were scheduled for this past week’s meeting will presumably be taken up then, as well. These include a final vote on the city’s new Anti-Panhandling Ordinance and two motions by Rita Mercier dealing with the Nativity scene that formerly was erected on JFK Plaza but this year is set up on the front lawn of St. Anne’s Church, one block down Merrimack Street from City Hall. The first motion asks that the Nativity scene be returned to JFK Plaza next year, the other that citizens be permitted to form a private committee to pay for the refurbishment of the nativity scene.
I walked by St. Anne’s yesterday while shopping downtown and thought the Nativity scene looked pretty good right there. To me it always looked forlorn sitting in the midst of JFK Plaza. Plus it is a religious display after all so it would seem more fitting to have it adjacent to a church than to a government building.
The law on this topic is pretty complicated. Just a couple of weeks ago when discussing a large judgment against the city, some councilors were critical of the city manager for not settling that particular case before its costs got so out of hand. At the next council meeting, some of the same councilors condemned the city manager for attempting to settle litigation that arose out of an appeal of a denial by the zoning board of appeals of an application for a methadone clinic. That matter was scheduled to be discussed in executive session this past Tuesday, so presumably that will also be on the agenda for January 7th.
Salvation Army Radiothon
Congratulations to Warren Shaw and associates for once again raising so much money and attention for the Salvation Army this holiday season. I’m told that everyone involved missed City Councilor Rita Mercier who wasn’t able to attend the Salvation Army Radiothon or ring the bell at the Washington Savings Bank last week as she has done in previous years due to being temporarily under the weather.
On Christmas Eve day, Salvation Army bell ringers including Attorney Susan Plunkett, several of our State Representatives, the City Manager’s Executive Assistant Lynda Clarke and others will have their kettle at Stadium Plaza from 7 am until 3 pm.
One of Tom Menino’s final initiatives as mayor of Boston was to push through a Citywide Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative that permits residents to keep “up to six egg laying hens per lot.” The final vote in favor of this was taken on December 18, 2013 to much rejoicing by the residents of Boston. A similar initiative died in Lowell but that had more to do with backyard chickens, like bike lanes, becoming code words used to condemn those promoting a more progressive approach to city government than it did to the substance of the proposal.
Around the local blogosphere
Before taking a break for the holidays, Chris and Aurora on Learning Lowell were busy writing about the impact of having the high school in downtown; a new initiative called the Merrimack Valley Time Exchange which facilitates bartering for goods and services; and a thoughtful piece on the past week’s violent acts in the context of all else going on in the community.
Jen Myers on Room 50 has posts about Dave Ouellette and the Monopoly-like Lowell game he created while a student at Lowell High called “The Old Mill Town.” Jen also does a review of the new Mexican restaurant called El Potro that opened at 124 Merrimack Street.
Chris Scott on The Column blog wrote about the city’s search for a new Chief Financial Officer to replace Tom Moses who left to become town manager of Hudson, Mass; the dismissal of a negligence lawsuit against the city arising out of the alleged misuse of a Lowell Police Department Segway; and the selection of Ed Davis as Person of the Year by “The Crime Report”, a national news site devoted to criminal justice issues.
While next fall’s state election will seem far away to most people, those involved even peripherally with politics at that level (speaking from the Democratic side) are being courted by candidates seeking support at the local party caucuses which will be held in February 2014. At those caucuses, delegates for the June 2014 Democratic State Convention will be elected. Normally it’s easy to snag a delegate slot (after all, who wants to pay $75 to spend a Saturday in June at the Worcester or Springfield civic centers?) but that all changes in gubernatorial election years such as 2014. This year, governor and the other five Constitutional offices (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General and Auditor) are all up for election. To appear on the Democratic primary ballot in September, a candidate must first win the support of 15% of the delegates at the party’s nominating convention in June. Hence the February delegate selection caucuses become a big deal since if a candidate cannot win sufficient delegates, his or her candidacy will be finished before summer officially begins. With only incumbent Secretary of State Bill Galvin and Auditor Suzanne Bump seeking reelection, the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer are all up for grabs. I’ll be posting more about the various candidates for these offices in the coming weeks.
It also appears that the Democratic primary for the office of Middlesex District Attorney will be a contested race. When incumbent DA Gerry Leone resigned last year, Governor Patrick appointed long-time prosecutor Marian Ryan to the office which will be on the ballot this fall. Ryan immediately announced she would run for DA in her own right. Just yesterday, Middlesex County Clerk of Courts Michael Sullivan announced to supporters that he will also seek the position. Sullivan, who was elected Clerk in 2006 and was reelected in 2012 would not have to relinquish the Clerk’s position to run in this race (although he would if ultimately elected DA). Sullivan previously ran for Middlesex District Attorney back in 1998 when the office opened when incumbent Tom Reilly ran for Attorney General. In that 1998 Democratic primary for the DA’s office, Martha Coakley won with 80,603 votes to Sullivan’s 46,195 and Tim Flaherty’s 41,254. In Lowell, the results were Sullivan 3371, Coakley 3285 and Flaherty 2194.
4 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: December 22, 2013
I respect the people of Lowell that want to move the high school. The idea is to build a state of the art school while redeveloping an important area in downtown. It’s a noble effort and appears to be a good idea on the surface. But are they playing with fire? Most people shop or go out in the evening or on weekends. The student impact on nights and weekends is zero. Sure if you go downtown at 2pm on a weekday it’s an absolute circus but what would it look like if the students weren’t there? Does anyone really think it would be a net gain for the business? I know that the high school brings almost zero customers to places like the Athenian corner but I seriously doubt that moving the school would open up the flood gates.
As for Tuesday’s snowstorm, and the resulting cancelation of the city council meeting, there is some second-guessing going on. One councilor stated that he could have reached city hall from his Belvidere home in 6-7 minutes, maybe double that with the snow. But, speaking as someone who was actually in the travel fray at that time, his estimate is way off, as traffic was at a standstill – it took me 1 hour to get home after entering Lowell on route 38 from Tewksbury.
In ten years will downtown Lowell look like downtown portsmouth or will it look like downtown lawrence? I know that there are honest people in the city that have a vision for downtown. They will never say it publicly but the semi strategy is to rip it down and build it new. I love that they have a vision but I’m not sure if they realize that a political vision is equally important. Do we have to destroy the village to save it? Maybe, but play this out in your mind. What politician will sacrifice themselves for an idea that cannot be realized for a decade? It would be impossible for this city manager or any city manager to go along with this idea. The answer for both “camps” is the Hamilton project. Join forces and get this right and we will have proof that downtown Lowell can thrive. Get it wrong and its more of the same and we can keep chasing our tales.
As far as canceling the council meeting goes…it wasn’t just about whether or not the councilors could get to city hall. The spirit of the Open Meeting Law is that the public be able to attend public meetings easily. That was not the case Tuesday with the combination of the city parking ban and the acting governor’s advice not to be on the roads. Canceling the meeting was the right call.